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WATCH: Bulls v Ospreys – Ruan Nortje v Alun Wyn Jones headlines key battles in Swansea

Published May 19, 2022

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Cape Town — “It’s rained every day since we’ve been here,” Jake White said despairingly, as the Bulls prepared in Swansea for Friday night’s United Rugby Championship clash against the Ospreys (9.10pm SA kickoff).

But the former Springbok coach is hoping that his team will escape the showers forecasted for the Welsh city and put on a display worthy of toppling an Ospreys outfit filled with Test players.

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Here are five key head-to-head battles that the Pretoria side will want to dominate…

Cornal Hendricks v George North

After pushing for Springbok honours again at inside centre, Hendricks has been pushed to the bench by the form of Harold Vorster in recent months. He had to step into his old No 14 jersey over the last few games as well, with Canan Moodie filling in for the injured Kurt-Lee Arendse.

But now Hendricks will be keen to prove that he can still be a threat at outside centre against a powerful runner such as North, who made his return to the pitch a few weeks ago after 12 months out with a knee injury.

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North is a formidable operator with 105 Test caps behind his name, so Hendricks will have his hands full.

Zak Burger v Rhys Webb

It was a bit of a surprise to see White opting for Burger ahead of Embrose Papier at scrumhalf, seeing that the latter has been in top form whenever he has been on the pitch. Perhaps it has to do with the fact that Papier only recently came back from another concussion layoff, while White also mentioned him as an X-factor player who can make an impact off the bench.

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But Burger has gone well in the URC too, varying his play well between using his boot and looking for the gap around the fringes.

The 33-year-old Webb, though, is a highly experienced No 9 who will have a point to prove after being left out of the Welsh squad to face the Boks in July. His box-kicking is usually on point, so Bulls fullback Canan Moodie will also be busy.

Elrigh Louw v Morgan Morris

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Big Bulls No 8 Louw could be behind Stormers star Evan Roos in the national pecking order after Rassie Erasmus praised the latter on social media a few weeks ago — and that is probably a fair assessment.

But Jacques Nienaber has not yet announced his Springbok squad, and the Ospreys clash is an ideal opportunity for Louw to prove that he is so much more than just a basher at close quarters.

He has shown on a few occasions that he does possess some of the ‘soft skills’ that Roos displays in almost every game, and now is the time to prove it again.

Morris is in a similar boat, as he was left out of the Wales squad to tour South Africa despite being arguably the form No 8 in the country.

He scored a hat-trick of tries against the Scarlets last week, and will be keen to catch the eye of Welsh coach Wayne Pivac.

Ruan Nortje v Alun Wyn Jones

This is the blockbuster showdown of the night — the young buck Nortje pushing for a Springbok spot, and the old warhorse Jones still going strong after coming back from his latest shoulder injury at the end of the Six Nations.

The Bulls No 5 has been so good in the URC that he was invited to the Springbok alignment camp this year, and there is a chance that he could feature against Wales — especially with RG Snyman still injured.

Initially seen as just a lean lineout jumper, Nortje has grown considerably in all other aspects of his game. He is almost becoming the next Victor Matfield with the way he is able to steal opposition lineouts, while he has become a force in the loose as well, rampaging upfield with those long legs of his, and even delivering a few deft offloads in the tackle.

Jones will try every trick in the lock book to make Nortje’s life difficult, and if he comes through this examination, there would be no doubt that he is ready to be a Bok.

Johan Grobbelaar v Dewi Lake

Bulls hooker Grobbelaar toured with the national squad during last year’s Rugby Championship, but missed out on the November trip to Europe, where the South Africans only took three hookers instead of four — Bongi Mbonambi, Malcolm Marx and Joseph Dweba.

Grobbelaar has been consistent once more this year, but has probably not quite reached the same heights that saw him selected in 2021.

So, coming up against a Welsh international in Dewi Lake presents the Bulls front-rower with a timely chance to remind Nienaber that he should be in the Bok mix.

The Bulls lineout have wasted attacking opportunities inside the opposition half at times, and that is something Grobbelaar will hope to avoid against the Ospreys.

Lake has worked on his old throwing-in weakness to become the likely starter for Wales against the Boks in July, and a commanding performance against the Bulls could secure that No 2 jersey.

@ashfakmohamed

IOL Sport

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